Where has all the Gaeilge gone?

How are we not fluent in Irish when he leave school?

Written by Mairead Conroy


Do you remember the first Irish word you learned? Probably something like dia dhuit, slán, or bainne! Do you remember when you learned it? I’m guessing it was when you were four or five and headed into primary school for the first time.

Do you remember the first French, German or Spanish word you learned? Probably bonjour or something simple like that. Do you remember when you learned it? I’m guessing some time around first year when you left the comforts of primary school and headed off into the big bad world of second level education.

Now, compare both experiences of learning these languages. Would it be a safe enough assumption to say that you have learned about as much of that foreign language as you have of Irish? Can you speak better French, German or Spanish than your native language?

Take into account how long you spent learning the foreign language versus Irish. About five or six years spent learning a European language, compared to 13 or 14 years spent learning Irish. Pretty shocking if you consider it!

You would think that after spending so many years studying Gaeilge we would all be fluent by now! There seems to be something SERIOUSLY wrong with the way Irish is taught, especially to little kids. Researchers say that when we are younger we are in a far better position to learn new things than when we are fully developed, so perhaps somewhere at the beginning of our learning experience things just aren’t getting done right.

Our lack of knowledge about our country’s language is made ever more apparent when we travel abroad or meet someone from another country. For instance, one of my best friends is originally from London and moved back here just before she started secondary school.

Due to her age she was exempt from learning Irish, (we get quite jealous when she heads off to her free classes and we’re left to study grammar) and she laughs at our feeble attempts to hold full conversations in our ‘native tongue.’

Des Bishop’s show, In the name of the Fada proves that Irish can be learnt without too much difficulty. Des is American born and a few years ago he had just about enough Irish to say hello and goodbye. So, off he went to Connemara for a year to learn the language.

He lived with a family in the Gaeltacht and totally immersed himself in ‘the Gaeilge’, customs and traditions of the area. A year later, his Irish is excellent and he even managed to pass a Leaving Cert Irish exam. Not too shabby if you ask me!

So let’s embrace our Gaeilge and start to think about how to improve our skills in our native language. After all, not every country is lucky enough to have an exclusive language and we didn’t fight for it for all those years just to let it slip away! Next time you are strolling down the road and you bump into some one you know, how about throwing them a ‘Dia dhuit’ and soon we’ll be speaking it like our ancestors!!

Our work is supported by